The easiest way to avoid persecution and suffering is to be silent for Christ and then come up with justifications to make such silence feel legitimate.
Jesus tells those who are entrusted with His mission in Matt. 10:17-20 two things they can count on: (1) they will be delivered up by men operating as “wolves” and (2) it will be given to them what they should say as those led by the Spirit of God.
Informed Christians might consider the call to “beware of such men” is to avoid them altogether. Don’t live among them or seek to reach them. We think to ourselves, “After all, what does sheep have in common with wolves? Aren’t they after us? Just play it safe.” This is the opposite of mission and living sent. It is staying where you are because the comfort and safety you enjoy is of far greater value to you than the glory of Jesus Christ spread by means of suffering for His name. At this point, one begins to look for the best alternative to mission, as though Jesus makes such a provision in his instructions. J.C. Ryle, in his Expository Thoughts on Matthew, powerfully addresses this “so-called prudence” in the avoidance of mission:
“The extreme into which most men are liable to fall in the present day is that of silence, cowardice, and letting others alone. Our so-called prudence is apt to degenerate into a compromising line of conduct, or downright unfaithfulness. We are only too ready to suppose that it is of no use trying to do good to certain people: we excuse ourselves from efforts to benefit their souls by saying it would be indiscreet, or inexpedient, or would give needless offence, or would even do positive harm. Let us all watch and be on our guard against this spirit; laziness and the devil are often the true explanation of it. To give way to it is pleasant to flesh and blood, no doubt, and saves much trouble: but those who give way to it often throw away great opportunities of usefulness (100).”
It is these very opportunities of usefulness that Andrew Fuller in 1791 preached the message he entitled, “The Instances, the Evil Nature, and the Dangerous Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion” which God used to light the candle of missionary flame at the close of the 18th century. Fuller, like Ryle, speaks of the “excuses for inactivity” and delay in missionary work, saying:
“There is something of this procrastinating spirit running through a great part of life, and it is of great detriment to the work of God. We know of many things that should be done, and cannot in conscience directly oppose them; but still we find excuses for our inactivity . . . We quiet ourselves with the thought that they need not be done just now.”
How often have we quieted ourselves with sinful thoughts that soothe a pricked conscience? We think, “That person is too far gone for God to save him” or “What good can I do with so little time?” or “When I get my life in order, then I will have time to be useful to the Lord’s work” and so on. By substituting our divine calling to take the mission Christ entrusted to us with a good and perhaps necessary alternative, we become convinced that the prudent thing to do is labor in the kitchen where the sound of pots and pans muffle out the voice of our Savior in the other room.
Fuller continues to address this indulgence of personal lamentation when speaking of one’s unwillingness to see the challenges as opportunities for God to supernaturally work rather than obstacles for us to write off the mission. He elaborates,
“This plea . . . prevents us from undertaking any great or good work for the cause of Christ or the good of mankind . . . There are difficulties in the way, and we wait for their removal. We are very apt to indulge in a kind of prudent caution (as we call it) which foresees and magnifies difficulties beyond what they really are . . . It becomes us to beware lest we account that impossible which only requires such a degree of exertion as we are not inclined to give it . . . Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases to consider them as purposefully laid in our way in order to try the sincerity of our religion.”
Our obstacles and difficulties do not have to be much for us to tune out the mission on a daily basis. With a busy schedule and noisy lifestyle, we live and move in a rhythm that doesn’t manage unanticipated friction and providential pauses, especially when margin is minimal. We are not capable of handling disorientation in our kingdom, much less the overthrow thereof. Consequently, preaching the gospel of the kingdom does not come with prophetic utterance when the presence of the kingdom has not cleared out our entitlement mentality. We prefer silence and the sinful prudence which manifest a far deeper reality deep within the heart that has yet to be set free by the superior excellencies of the King of glory.
What Fuller preached two centuries ago still rings true today. The procrastinating spirit couched in sinful prudence has perpetuated the neglect of the “ordinary means” for seeing the Great Commission realized in our everyday lives. Fuller explains:
“Let it be further considered whether it is not owing to this principle that so few, and so feeble efforts have been made for the propagation of the Gospel in the world . . . Are souls of men of less value than heretofore? No. Is Christianity less true or less important than in former ages? This will not be pretended. Are there no opportunities . . . to convey the Gospel to the heathen? . . . We pray for the conversion of the world and yet we neglect the ordinary means by which it can be brought about.”
It is no coincidence that the very disciple Jesus called upon to pray to the Lord of the harvest are immediately called to join in the mission. There are matters that we should pray about in seeking to direction and guidance in knowing what the Lord would have us to do, but the fact is that laborers are few in the harvest still because of so many have yet to live as “sent” laborers in the harvest field called life. It is my prayer that genuine repentance would be found in me and all those who desire never to live with such sinful prudence and shameful silence when we have a Savior whose salvation is so great and glorious. May we not delay in living among wolves as a demonstrable witness in word and deed to the hope of the resurrection, the transforming power of the gospel, and the amazing grace abounding to the chief of sinners.